The U.S. Dept. of Energy is pushing an effort to expand use of geothermal energy in regions where it is not currently feasible. The department’s “Enhanced Geothermal Shot” program, announced Sept. 8, aims to reduce the cost by 90% by 2035 of enhanced geothermal systems for generating power, as part of broader Biden administration efforts to achieve a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement, that moving geothermal technology from research and development to the level of cost-effective commercial adoption would help transition to clean energy production. Meeting the 90% cost reduction goal would price geothermal power at $45 per megawatt hour. Wholesale electricity prices are forecast to average between $69 and more than $100 per MWh in different parts of the U.S. this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest short-term energy outlook.
Geothermal power plants work by tapping into wells of hot rock and water at least 4,000 ft underground. The plants use steam from those reservoirs to produce electricity. Currently, varying underground conditions impact the cost-effectiveness or viability of geothermal power in many areas, but DOE officials say enhanced systems could overcome those conditions with artificial reservoirs—potentially allowing for construction of geothermal power plants in just about any part of the U.S.
The U.S. has more than 5 terawatts of heat resources, enough to meet global power needs, Granholm said. Currently, geothermal energy is used to generate just 3.7 GW of electricity in the U.S.
“The United States has a vast, geothermal energy resource lying right beneath our feet, and this program will make it economical to bring that power to American households and businesses,” Granholm said.
The new initiative marks DOE's fourth “Energy Earthshot” program aimed at boosting advancement in clean energy and related technologies. Others are focused on hydrogen, grid-scale energy storage and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at scale. But the department had already been working to advance enhanced geothermal and similar tools through its Geothermal Technologies Office.
In August, DOE's Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy field laboratory in Utah announced it would provide up to $44 million in funding to test and evaluate new enhanced geothermal tools and techniques. The department also announced $165 million in July for a consortium of experts to develop a geothermal energy roadmap and fund research in gaps the experts identify.
DOE also issued a request for information in April to support $84 million in enhanced geothermal pilot projects that will build on the department’s prior development work, officials say.